Ange Postecoglou’s quiet revolution with the Socceroos is underway in earnest.
By naming Lucas Neill as his captain for Tuesday’s match against Costa Rica in Sydney, the new Socceroos boss has once again shown he is as canny a politician as he is a coach.
Many expected Postecoglou to reupholster the Socceroos from top to bottom after their recent hapless displays in Brazil and France.
On his appointment he made it quite clear he felt the culture within the dressing room had a whiff of reckless complacency.
Most of all, Postecoglou sensed that the currency of the national shirt was being alarmingly devalued, something that was unacceptable to a nation of football fans who took pride in the achievements of modestly talented teams of previous generations who drew enormous strength from the privilege of wearing it.
History tells us though that a public purge is not the Postecoglou way. His tenure at Melbourne Victory is emblematic of his approach.
On arrival at the Victory one of his first decisions was to retain Kevin Muscat as his senior assistant coach. Muscat had been at the club since day one. The former tough tackling defender worked as captain and assistant under Ernie Merrick, Mehmet Durakovic and the hapless Jim Magilton.
Muscat’s crash through or crash approach would have seemed an anathema to the “Roarcelona” brand of football Postecoglou pioneered with his all conquering Brisbane Roar sides.
Yet Muscat was retained, became a loyal deputy and ascended to the top job at Victory on Postecoglou’s departure to take on the Socceroos gig.
Given an opportunity to embrace the Postecoglou philosophy of hard work and uncompromising pursuit of excellence, Muscat thrived.
For Ange, it was also smart realpolitik.
The approach is best summed up by former US President Lyndon B Johnson and what he infamously said about his relationship with his FBI boss J Edgar Hoover. “I’d Rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”
My sense is that same approach is being taken with The Socceroos senior cabal.
Make no mistake, this is not business as usual for a Socceroos team that many felt had become captive to the whim of its senior players.
Though Lucas Neill continues to wear the armband, he is under no illusions he is operating under a very different regime from now on.
“It’s not even about the team now, it’s about the country” Neill said. And that has no doubt been Postecoglou’s central message to this group of players who had begun to act and play like the national team was an exclusive club rather than a position of privilege.
Neill acknowledged that Postecoglou had reminded the players of their responsibility to the Socceroos legacy. ” (Ange) has reminded us all there’s a great sense of pride in the shirt,” Neill said.
That they needed reminding confirms Postecoglou was right to be concerned.
For Lucas Neill, this is a personally significant moment as he will captain Australia for the 61st time, surpassing the record set by The Socceroos reclusive skipper from the 1974 World Cup Finals in Germany, Peter Wilson.
Postecoglou is offering no guarantees beyond the full 90 minutes against Costa Rica that the armband will remain his.
It’s a sign of the growing stature of The Socceroos that the captaincy – like that of the Australian cricket team or The Wallabies – has become critical to the sporting public. We look to our leaders on field to reflect the best in how we see ourselves.
If anything though the Socceroos coach is bemused by the recent national obsession with the captaincy of his team.
“There are more important things and priorities,” he said. “Everything we’ve done is about the collective.”
On Tuesday, we get our first chance to see if Ange’s revolution has had its first success.